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  • Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts

    Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts

    Nitesh Dhanjani's 2015 O'Reilly book Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts is a very practical existence-proof of the inadequacy and urgency of Internet of Things security.

    The usual O'Reilly book is a kind of cook-book for accomplishing normal technical tasks, each recipe serving to illustrate broader technical principles. Millions of skilled technical people have followed the steps in O'Reilly books to master Perl and Ruby and Python, become master network administrators, or just master shell scripting.

    Abusing the Internet of Things is structured just like one of those cookbooks, only the recipes explain the (relatively simple) steps you need take to compromise everything from a smart lightbulb -- one recipe explains how to plunge a smart lighting system into permanent, irrevocable darkness -- to a smart baby-monitor (this was published months before a family in San Francisco woke to discover a griefer terrorizing their toddler through his bedside monitor) to a smart TV to -- what else? -- a smart car.

    In so doing, Dhanjani -- who has presented widely on the subject, including an excellent talk at Black Hat Asia -- illustrates the utter shoddiness of IoT security, and incontrovertibly illustrates the risks from bad information security when every corner of our homes is infiltrated by computers.

    But this isn't just a cautionary tale. After walking the reader through a series of examples, complete with source-code and exercises for the student, Dhanjani flips the script, and uses all he's discussed to build a secure, smart doorbell that's connected to the public Internet, with security in it by design. The distance between the approach in this exercise and the approaches taken by the vendors Dhanjani outs as security bumblers is the clincher, the proof that the things you buy are broken because no one cared enough about them to make them hard to break.

    Two final chapters sum up the scenarios for future IoT attacks, and dramatize the institutional processes that produce such poor quality devices for our consumption.

    The book is written in a spritely, writerly fashion, with many grace notes and interesting case studies -- including an account of how you could use someone's hacked email account to steal their Tesla automobile.

    This book is a marvellous thing: an important intervention in the policy debate about information security and a practical text for people trying to improve the situation.

    Abusing the Internet of Things: Blackouts, Freakouts, and Stakeouts [Nitesh Dhanjani/O'Reilly]

    (Image: "Activate the world" (or: what "mobile" really means), Mike, CC-BY)

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